How 140 Characters Can Cause a Ruckus

How 140 Characters can cause a ruckusBen Franklin advised us to  “believe none of what you hear and half of what you see,” yet somehow we live and die by Twitter’s 140 characters as truth. I am always fascinated at how smart people become victims of social media either by posting the wrong thing or having their post misinterpreted by others.  Most of the time we read about people posting the wrong thing, like online career coach Penelope Trunk’s miscarriage and her rant on the abortion law in Wisconsin. Or fashion designer Kenneth Cole, (someone should really take away his Blackberry already) and his inappropriate comments on Twitter about Egypt.

Most recently, NY Times journalist, Jen Preston, was misinterpreted by her tweet. After Ms. Preston viewed President Obama’s speech on the debt ceiling and gave his call to action for Americans to take to Twitter and tweet your lawmaker she was curious, as any savvy Tweeter would be, and asked “what’s the hashtag?” Unfortunately, a conservative blog picked up the tweet, misinterpreted it and did a story. That story got picked up by Yahoo! News, the L.A. Times and others. Yikes! The Washington Post got the story right, but the damage and barrage of Conservatist attacks over Twitter were already coming at a rapid pace.

What has happened to responsible journalism?  Ms. Preston was being a responsible journalist by investigating and asking the questions first, yet look where it got her? We tend to rely heavily on things we read as being true if it comes from a “valuable source” or a “person with credibility.” But since when did our standards for credibility and valuable source come from and stop at only Twitter?

Catchy headlines are often the catalyst in making these things viral but we seriously need to question the things that we read online, because these days everyone has a blog (there are 150 million blogs on the internet) and everyone has their own spin on what just happened. Just look at this one:

Microsoft Says Sorry for ‘Misinterpreted’ Winehouse Tweet

Well of course you are going to click on it and read it. Why? It’s about Microsoft – a well known brand and about Amy Winehouse, a Grammy winner who tragically left us too soon. But it’s really about Microsoft tweeting something harmless that someone misinterpreted as commercialism. The result? Microsoft apologized. But has anyone apologized to Jennifer Preston over Twitter? No.

Thoughts/Comments? Let me know below.

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About Tracy Sestili

Tracy Sestili is CEO and Chief blogger at Social Strand Media. She is also the author of Taking Your Brand from the Bench to the Playing Field -- Social Media Fundamentals for Business.


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